GAINESVILLE — Despite the weeks of speculation and rumors, Florida running back Dameon Pierce still wasn’t expecting Sunday’s announcement that the Gators had fired coach Dan Mullen.
“Honestly, bro, from an internal standpoint, it was kind of shocking,” Pierce said Monday. “We at least thought we could finish the season, and whatever happens in the offseason happens in the offseason.”
Instead, Florida pulled the plug on the Mullen tenure, six days before a rivalry matchup with Florida State that has bowl eligibility on the line for both teams.
The decision left Gators coaches and players handling two questions: What happened, and what now?
The answers to the first question are complicated. Pierce still doesn’t know.
“Did I ever expect this? No,” Pierce said. “I don’t think anybody did.”
Interim coach Greg Knox said UF’s freefall from a top-12 team that took reigning national champion Alabama to the wire in Week 3 to one looking for a new head coach by Week 13 comes down to one thing: The Gators haven’t made enough plays.
“It’s not a talent issue,” Knox said. “It’s an attention-to-detail issue.”
Knox said coaches and players share the blame for what happened in the 24-23 overtime loss at Missouri and throughout the season. The staff needs to communicate those details better. Then the players need to understand them and execute them.
Knox’s diagnosis was similar to the intentionally vague one athletic director Scott Stricklin gave Sunday.
“It’s a lot of little things you have to pay attention to,” Stricklin said. “We have an opportunity here to go get someone who can really focus on those things.”
Which leads to the next question: What now?
Administratively, Stricklin and his staff are working to hire Mullen’s replacement as soon as possible, as the Dec. 15 early signing period nears.
Stricklin hasn’t said much about his criteria because he’s searching in a crowded marketplace that includes two other top-tier programs (USC and LSU). The Tigers have narrowed their candidates to Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, Louisiana-Lafayette’s Billy Napier and Baylor’s Dave Aranda, according to a report Monday from veteran LSU reporter Glenn Guilbeau.
As UF’s search begins behind the scenes, the coaches and players have an opportunity to end the season with some semblance of positivity against FSU. When Mullen met with his now-former players Sunday in the team meeting room, that’s the message he stressed.
“No matter whether he is here or he’s not here,” Pierce said, “the fact remains that we have to end the season with a win and beat Florida State.”
⋅ UF elevated Dean Kennedy from a quality control role to an onfield position coaching the offense. He was an all-conference quarterback at the University of Rochester and had been on Mullen’s staff since his days at Mississippi State.
⋅ Quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee will assume Mullen’s duties as offensive play caller. The former Alabama Birmingham head coach has previously served as the offensive coordinator at Illinois, Louisville, Arkansas and Northwestern.
⋅ Knox did not have an update on the health of quarterback Anthony Richardson. The redshirt freshman did not play against Missouri; Mullen said he was limited during practice due to unspecified injuries. “If he’s healthy and available,” Knox said, “we’ll get him in the game.”
⋅ The gambling site betonline.ag came up with odds for UF’s next coach. The top candidates, in order: Napier (7/2), Mississippi’s Lane Kiffin (5/1), Oregon’s Mario Cristobal (11/2) and former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, Penn State coach James Franklin and Kentucky coach Mark Stoops (all at 8/1).
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